Most live-music executives began the new decade with an optimistic outlook, expecting it to begin with record grosses in the touring business. Over the last month, however, the outbreak of COVID-19 completely changed that, as what initially seemed like a pause for live music turned into a longer break, then a complete standstill. Now that, combined with an increasingly uncertain economy, is threatening the already fraught balance of power among concert giants Live Nation and AEG, the independent promoters struggling to compete against them and the major talent agencies that are already coming to terms with a rapidly consolidating business.
In less than a week — starting with the March 6 cancellation of South by Southwest (SXSW) and ending with Live Nation and AEG’s March 12 decision to temporarily stop presenting concerts — the live-music business went from preparing for a summer with over 50 million advance tickets sold and a 30% year-over-year increase in shows scheduled to facing a nationwide directive prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people. Overnight, billions of dollars in ticket revenue and artist payments were frozen in accounts controlled by, respectively, Live Nation and AEG, and the four major talent agencies: WME, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Paradigm and UTA.
Everyone else in the business — indie promoters, staging companies and food/merchandise vendors — continued to receive bills but not the money they were counting on to pay them.